According to the Pew Research Center, millennials (born 1981-1991) make up more than 35% of the American labor force and they've had an outsized impact on creating today's modern office culture. Last week we explored the millennial effect on leadership and now we'll explore the core values millennials look for in their employers. Cultures that encourage empowerment, diversity and corporate responsibility are some of the standards more brands will need to address to recruit and retain millennial talent. Organizations could ignore these expectations, but as millennials become an even larger part of the workforce, they will inevitably influence and occupy more company leadership positions and create the change they want to see. So, let's examine the workplace shift millennials are helping to usher in and the social issues they champion.

Culture of Empowerment

An accelerated cultural shift has led to the exposure of workplace policies that have been ineffective in addressing sexual misconduct. The cascade of personal stories magnified by supportive voices and a surge of global activism has moved more organizations to dismantle toxic corporate cultures and policies that have disempowered employees from speaking out about harassment.

In 2017, Susan Fowler published an essay about sexism and harassment at Uber, uncovering a concerning culture that resulted in Uber's CEO and several other leaders being ousted. Even as she considered the potential personal cost of coming forward, Fowler told the NY Times, "...I wasn't just standing up for myself. I felt like I was standing up for everyone else that I was seeing at Uber who was mistreated." A cascade of similar stories within Uber were revealed and additional allegations of abuse committed by drivers resulted in considerable policy changes from the office to the road.

Fowler's story inspired others to come forward and further ignite the #MeToo movement that's fueled change from Silicon Valley to Hollywood. Recently Google employees staged a world-wide walkout in protest of the organizations' handling of allegations of sexual misconduct. Both Google and Facebook have ended forced arbitration for employees who face harassment or discrimination as one of many policy changes. While millennials are not the only voices contributing to these revelations, discussions, and activism - they are a generation that seems collectively inspired to create change for the better.

Defying Inequity

Despite sweeping change spurred by #MeToo, inequity in pay across industries, titles and demographics has been a long-standing issue that remains largely unresolved. Equal Pay Day was established in the U.S. in 1996 as an event to bring public awareness to the gap in wages between men and women and more than 22 years later, it's painfully evident how much work there's left to do.

Encouragingly, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says the pay gap is narrowing for the millennial generation. Their report sites education as a significant factor in the diminishing gap. Among millennials, 38% of women hold bachelor's degrees while men are at 31% and post-secondary enrollment rates are projected to continue to be higher for women. While millennial men and women may begin their careers on equal footing, both sides agree that having children would impact their ability to advance in their career. Surveyed women believe they'll have an uphill battle for equal treatment as their careers progress especially if they decide to start families. The concern is justified as bias and discrimination remain contributors to inequity in pay that can't be fixed by education alone.

While several states have passed laws to address pay equity including Illinois, Oregon and North Dakota, none have gone as far as Massachusetts. In 2016, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act went into effect, prohibiting wage discrimination based on gender. In the same year Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh introduced a free salary negotiation workshops which has reportedly helped more than 7,000 women. Boston Women's Workforce Council is also partnering with the local business community to identify and solve for barriers that create gender gaps in wages and representation within their companies. It's going to take collective efforts likes these - across industries, government and education to eradicate gap earnings.

Diversity and Inclusion

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, stated in a January report that millennials are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history with minorities representing 44 percent of a population of more than 75 million. Surveyed millennials stated a belief that, "investing in a more inclusive America is essential to the nation's economic success." As members and advocates of this largely diverse population and with the largest representation in the U.S. workforce, millennials stand to forever change the face of business and politics and how the United States is viewed throughout the world.

Given these statistics, more organizations will need to deeply examine the makeup of their staff, leadership teams, boards and vendors to ensure they represent the diverse communities they reside within and serve. Diversity is a word we're all familiar with but inclusion takes diversity a step further and could require a shift in workplace culture where all are encouraged to lend their voices and expertise. Symantec defines inclusion as creating a workforce that embraces every culture, language, age, sexual orientation, disability, background and experience - and giving a voice to those differences. Creating an inclusive workforce has significant and tangible benefits that include higher productivity and greater innovation. A homogenous talent pool can lead to sameness in thinking, planning, and execution. Building diverse representation throughout an organization at all levels is a critical step in creating a diverse environment where all feel encouraged to participate in the growth of the organization. The byproduct is greater job satisfaction and increased diversity of ideas and strategic approaches.

Doing Good vs Good PR

As more organizations make Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) a priority, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC), says there's been a 75% increase in C-Suite roles guiding related initiatives over the past 5 years. The prioritization of CSR is unsurprising as it represents an opportunity to do good, introduce innovation, and increase profitability. Adweek reports that millennials represent $2.45 trillion in spending power, and according to Omnicom Group's Cone Communications, they are spending more with brands that support causes they care about. Global brands have taken note.

Nike is a household name that continues to be relevant in part because of their endorsement of millennial athletes like Colin Kaepernick, which affirms the brands' values. The brand has also embraced broader social responsibility as an opportunity to be a force for better and to internally inspire ingenuity. Nike's head of sustainability, Hanna Jones, told Fast Company that reframing how the organization approached issues like sustainability and labor rights opened the door to inventiveness. "Sustainability was always framed as something that was counter to business success, that if you made a product that was sustainable, somehow it would be less good or more expensive." While that can be true, Jones went on to say, "Whether it's about women's rights or sustainability or women in the supply chain, if you flip it to be about an innovation opportunity, people step into that space with less fear. And that creates possibility."

Brands intersect with social issues of the moment as their workforce and the communities they cater to are likely comprised of people who represent many ethnic and racial backgrounds. Millennials, much like the rest of the population, can tell the difference between authentic and thoughtful representation of deeply rooted brand values and PR stunts. Leveraging a diverse workforce to generate ideas that solve for social crisis is a solid start to building a brand that will resonate with generations to come.

Getting Better


While change in corporate culture has been accelerated by disruptor companies and recent political and social events, evolution has also been driven by generational shift. Millennials are more loyal to their career ambitions - compared to Generation X, which was more loyal to their employers - and that has likely contributed to how millennials are perceived. At a superficial glance, they've often been viewed as self-centered and self-indulgent. However, pursuit of fulfillment in the professional realm is driving them to speak out against abuse and discrimination, lead change and create opportunities that have a local and global impact. Their disruption of business as usual is making our companies and our country better.

Published on: Nov 26, 2018